An anxiety attack can cause emotional and physical symptoms that include a racing heart, fear, and distress.

An anxiety attack doesn’t cause the same symptoms for everyone. It typically comes on slowly due to an event or circumstance where you fear what may happen.

You can take steps to help prevent the attack from happening and reduce your symptoms when they occur. These may include exercise, a healthy diet, or learning about breathing techniques that can help calm your symptoms.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an anxiety attack, resources are available to support you. You’re not alone.

Anxiety attacks don’t have specific diagnostic criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

This means that the symptoms you experience may be different than those another person experiences during an anxiety attack.

You may experience physical or emotional symptoms that may include:

  • heightened fear, worry, or feelings of dread
  • trouble concentrating
  • sweating
  • feeling of impending doom or being out of control
  • dry mouth
  • faster heart rate
  • feeling faint
  • headache
  • hot flashes

But you don’t need to experience all or most of these to have an anxiety attack.

Anxiety often relates to the anticipation of a stressful event, situation, or experience you may have in the future. Symptoms can vary between different disorders, but anxiety often includes:

  • distress
  • fear
  • worry
  • feeling overwhelmed

Several different mental health conditions can cause anxiety symptoms, such as:

Anxiety attack vs panic attack

A panic attack comes on suddenly. They typically involve noticeable physical symptoms that can include nausea, shortness of breath, or increased heartbeat.

The DSM-5-TR also provides diagnostic criteria for a panic attack. The manual classifies them as expected or unexpected.

  • Expected panic attacks: occur due to external stressors, such as fears or life events
  • Unexpected panic attacks: occur for no known reason

Similar to an anxiety attack, anyone can have a panic attack. But if it occurs more than once, it may indicate an underlying mental health disorder, such as panic disorder.

The two conditions can occur together or back to back. For example, you may experience an anxiety attack leading up to an exam but then experience a panic attack when the exam starts.

The two can be difficult to tell apart. Here are common differences to consider:

  • panic attack physical symptoms are more intense
  • anxiety attacks typically have a cause while many panic attacks have no known reason
  • anxiety comes on slowly while panic attacks typically happen suddenly
  • fear of additional panic attacks may cause changes in your behavior to avoid possible triggers or situations

Several different stressors can trigger an anxiety attack, but the exact triggers can vary greatly between people.

Some possible triggers include:

  • work stressors
  • personal or family health issues
  • trouble with family or personal relationships
  • past traumas, such as bullying, neglect, or abuse
  • financial problems
  • loss of a friend or family member
  • life changes such as having a baby, retirement, or unemployment

You can take several steps to help return to a calm state during an anxiety attack. The following are some tips that may help.

1. Calming breathing exercises

Several different exercises and breathing routines may help with anxiety. You may consider engaging in deep breathing techniques, such as:

  • box breathing
  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • mindful meditation
  • alternate nostril breathing

2. Exercise

Regular exercise may help keep you feeling better and may help clear your head. This can include:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • running
  • swimming
  • yoga

3. Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet may help to keep your body in a good condition and may help reduce the likelihood of having an anxiety attack.

4. Talk it out

Sometimes talking out your fears with a trusted friend or family member may help reduce symptoms of anxiety attacks.

You may also find that speaking with a counselor or joining a support group may help too.

5. Find ways to reduce stress

Stress can trigger an anxiety attack in some people. Stress management can involve a combination of:

  • exercises
  • breathing techniques
  • finding relaxing activities you enjoy

It may take time to discover activities and techniques that can help you cope with stressors. But if you notice certain events or situations induce anxiety attacks, try to find coping strategies that can bring you comfort and a sense of safety.

You may want to consider support if you find you have several anxiety attacks or have trouble controlling your anxiety when they occur.

Support doesn’t have to include any formal therapy. You may find that in-person or online support groups may help. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers a tool to help you find a group that may fit your needs.

You may also find that speaking with a therapist, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), or stress management may help. If you don’t know where to start, a local healthcare professional can provide you with suggestions for local therapists.

You may also consider visiting Psych Central’s find a therapist page.

Anxiety attacks can come on slowly. They can cause both emotional and physical symptoms, including intense worry, racing heart, or fear.

Signs and symptoms can vary greatly between people. And there are no specific criteria for what an anxiety attack is.

You can reduce symptoms at home by practicing breathing techniques or speaking with a trusted loved one. You also may find that working with a therapist or other mental health professional may help.